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Hell Is Other People

Newly arrived at the beachfront resort that will serve as Skinner box for this by now familiar experiment in randy, humiliation-prone cohabitation, Alan Taylor—virginal, teetotaling Texas Tech freshman and obvious breakout star of the first Real World movie—issues a plaintive appeal: "I just want to see some boobies." Needless to say, by the end of this week in the outer circle of hell that is spring break in Cancún, not only will Alan have ingested brain-fogging quantities of alcohol and backed his orange-Speedoed thang up to a landslide victory in the hot-bod contest (male division), his wish will have been granted several times over. Boobies on the beach. Boobies in wet T-shirts. Boobies belonging to highly tactile identical twins.

The Real World's been on a downhill course since Seattle '98, but compared to its desperate and convoluted reality TV offspring, the show retains an attractive simplicity, relying merely on strategic casting and shifty editing. The Real Cancún is as compulsively surreal as a Real World marathon—but at a fraction of the length, with unpixelated body parts and unbleeped trash talk. The thong-and-tequila ambience greatly heightens the hook-up urgency—accordingly, infrared surveillance cams have been mounted in the coed shower and the sleeping quarters. (The one above the Lorenzo Lamas look-alike's bed sees the most action.)

But as the Bunim/Murray cameras have a way of eliciting near sociopathic narcissism and passive-aggression, we see less fucking than mindfucking, edited down to bite-size subplots that affirm the meathead and dick-tease gender stereotypes reality TV thrives on. Sarah and Matt bond over a jellyfish-sting urine cure; how long can he wait while she contemplates cheating on her boyfriend? Elusive Sky plays coy with forthright Paul ("What kinda dicks you like?"), but when he backs off, she turns apoplectic: "I'm a fucking mystery!"

Spring break Skinner boxing: The Real Cancun.
photo: Brie Childers/2003 New Line Productions
Spring break Skinner boxing: The Real Cancun.

Details

The Real Cancun
Directed by Rick De Oliveira
New Line
In release

Identity
Directed by James Mangold
Written by Michael Cooney
Columbia
In release

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Chasing the box office of Jackass the Movie, The Real Cancún arrives in theaters while its stars are practically still nursing their Cuervo hangovers (it was shot last month). Dream business model or the end of civilization? It may be premature to fret over the prospect of quickie-saturated multiplexes, a wasteland of scriptless, actorless movies. Nothing kills a trend like industry greed—Universal releases its spring-break-in-Mexico flick, The Quest, later this year. In the meantime, there are worse crimes being perpetrated in Hollywood than The Real Cancún—an exploitation fantasy no more booby-besotted than a Porky's or American Pie installment, and certainly no more unreal.


The premise of the one-rainy-night thriller Identity seems like mothballed Agatha Christie, though someone is probably this very moment pitching a reality version to Fox: 10 strangers—including chauffeur John Cusack, hooker Amanda Peet, and cop Ray Liotta—end up at a remote motel, where the corpses quickly accumulate. One of the characters notes that she once saw something like this in a movie. Sure enough, even as director James Mangold rustles up scares with bloodied room keys and rumbling industrial dryers, he races toward the safe ground of meta—climactic quote marks to reframe the narrative and explain away its escalating absurdities.

The ultimate cliché of plot-twist implausibility, the crucial revelation is so outlandishly fatuous it might have given Donald Kaufman pause. But there's nothing self-parodic about Identity—the viewer must not only swallow the nullifying third-act bombshell but actually re-engage with the movie on its new, extremely dubious terms. The film leaves a paperback of Being and Nothingness conspicuously lying around: a clue or a portent of deeper thoughts to come? Are we to expect a theory of consciousness or a Sartrean paradox? Eventually you realize nothingness is the operative word. Identity becomes a nihilist project in Usual Suspects mode: Nothing is as it seems, because nothing matters in the least.

 
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